By James O'Brien
Worcestershire Rapids seamer Chris Russell admits he did not expect to play in this season's NatWest T20 Blast, let alone be the leading wicket-taker so far.
The 25-year-old watched from the sidelines as Worcestershire got their campaign up and running with back-to-back defeats.
He was given his first chance of 2014 against Nottinghamshire Outlaws and has not looked back, taking 16 wickets in all to inspire the Rapids to six straight wins which leaves them joint top of the North Group.
Russell told ecb.co.uk: "I've surprised myself a little bit. I didn't expect to play at all in the T20s. (But) I got given a chance and I've taken it with both hands.
"I'd gone quite well in the second team T20 and I've just stuck with what I do quite well. Luckily it's paid off.
"It's helped having (Saeed) Ajmal in the side. Guys try and go after the other bowlers when he's playing so when they've tried to hit me, they've hit the fielders and our guys have fielded well."
Worcestershire will aim to extend their winning run when they entertain the Outlaws at New Road tonight.
Asked if it was too early to starting dreaming of a first T20 title, Russell said: "I think so. Job number one is to finish in the top four and then take the quarter-final as it comes.
"The lads have been going well. Hopefully we can make it seven on the bounce.
"The team is really full of confidence. From the way we started in the championship, we've taken that momentum into the Twenty20s and getting six wins on the bounce, the lads are firing.
"They've been fantastic in the field. They've backed up the bowling really well, throwing themselves around.
"We're enjoying it and obviously getting that momentum, you get on that wave and you keep riding it."
Like Russell, Ajmal has been a key performer for the Rapids, conceding just six runs an over.
Ajmal has not only impressed his team-mates with his match-winning performances on the field, but the way he conducts himself off it as well.
"He's fantastic. He's the number-one spinner in the world and he's shown that on the field," Russell added.
"Off it he's bubbly, full of jokes and always offering advice. He's helped Mo (Moeen Ali) a lot with his bowling.
"He's really lively. You get some guys who come in and they're quite quiet but he's full of energy.
"He's done remarkably well since he's come here. With someone of that quality in your side, you may as well be playing 16-overs-a-side.
"He doesn't go for many at all and makes some guys look silly with his skills. For us he's a massive bonus.
"(Colin) Munro has been fantastic. He's settled in as if he's been here for 10 years. He has been giving us momentum in the middle overs, with Mitch (Daryl Mitchell) at the other end getting his 60s and 70s.
"It's all clicking and the boys are buzzing at the moment."